Fanny Ardant is even taller than she looks in the movies. Sitting with her long legs crossed, her pencil skirt and sheer black shirt make her look like one of the femme fatales she’s become notorious for playing, and as she speaks in French to Marion Vernoux (who directed her in Bright Days Ahead) they sound as if they’re plotting something positively sinful. She turns towards me, smiles, extends her hand towards me and softly says “oh, we’re just talking about food”. In Bright Days Ahead, Ardant plays Caroline, a recently retired dentist who finds herself torn between her love for her husband Philippe (Patrick Chesnais) and her much younger lover (Laurent Lafitte), a computer instructor she met at the center for senior citizens her daughters want her to spend her free time in.
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When Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) leaves the convent to meet her only living relative, nothing she has learned from the nuns has prepared her to meet her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a woman who represents everything she has been taught not to be. In fact, there is so much about Wanda’s worldly ways that Anna is ignorant of, that at first we can’t help but feel as if writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski has created her just for the sake of being a plot device. With her chain-smoking, constant drinking and promiscuity, Wanda seems to be in the story just to show Anna that the world is full of sin and she should stay away from it. But the more we come to know of her, the more complex she becomes and the more we understand that she’s not simply a “lesson” for Anna, but in fact the key to unlocking her whole existence.
With its inhuman expectations and unrealistic standards of beauty and physical types, the film industry seems keen on chastising its movie stars who dare to grow old. While this is often more true for women, some men—who are too pretty for their own good—are often thrown aside as the industry embraces the new young-pretty-it-person in town. When audiences worldwide first became aware of Jude Law, he was lying in an Italian beach, as the sun caressed his discretely muscular body. His Dickie Greenleaf in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, encouraged the press to label him the same way they did his character: as a golden boy.
Nothing helps the mind relax and the emotions flow like a good piece of music and in the case of movie music, which can be thrilling and evocative (Mud) or intrusive and distracting (Gravity), it can also help us define specific viewing experiences. How many of you were rolling your eyes at Hans Zimmer’s redundant score for Captain Phillips only to realize the score had been in fact written by Henry Jackman? And how many of you were flabbergasted at Zimmer’s ability to stop parodying himself and delivering one of the year’s lushest scores in the stunning 12 Years a Slave?
AMPAS’ music branch always works in its own peculiar ways (never discount John Williams who apparently scored The Book Thief in 2013), but we can dream about them nominating ingenious, groundbreaking scores, right? In the service of said wishful thinking here’s our FYC for Best Original Score (apologies to the sweeping work of Zimmer and Christophe Beck of Frozen who were runner-ups).
1. Lele Marchitelli for The Great Beauty
Paolo Sorrentino’s love-song to Rome was already so Felliniesque that to use music similar to Nino Rota’s would’ve been complete overkill, so he went the traditional way and had Lele Marchitelli concoct a score so sweeping and gorgeous that with each new note we feel we are watching something truly divine.
2. Alex Ebert for All Is Lost
As the bandleader of Ima Robot and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Alex Ebert has proved to be one of the most inventive American musicians, but nothing in his work so far could’ve prepared us for the Vangelis-meets-Beethoven glory of the music for All is Lost. In a movie of very few words, his arrangements evoke the film’s endless melancholy as a single character fights hard to survive against the inclement, heartless force of nature.
3. Arcade Fire & Owen Pallett for Her
While the disco beats were orgamsic, Arcade Fire‘s Reflektor wasn’t their best work this year. Creating the music for Spike Jonze’s lovely Her, the superband found themselves reaching new peaks of inventiveness. With the question of how to voice something who isn’t tangible, they created a soundtrack that evokes love and god, which seen, or rather heard, through their pieces might very well be the same thing.
4. Clint Mansell for Stoker
No working composer has been creating music as “quotable” as Clint Mansell. His work with Darren Aronofsky is impeccable and to date he has only been nominated for a single Golden Globe Award and a Grammy. His layered, mischievous work in Stoker should’ve put him in more people’s ballots, if only because of the way he makes us see Matthew Goode’s character’s wicked smile with a single piano note.
5. Cliff Martinez and Skrillex for Spring Breakers
Martinez had a banner year between this and his brilliant work in the unjustly maligned Only God Forgives. If AMPAS voters were more adventurous, this would go to the very top of their list given it’s perhaps the most zeitgeisty score of the year. Sure in decades to come they’d blush about nominating Skrillex for Oscars, but listening to how he and Martinez are able to sum up euphoria in tracks like “Bikinis and Big Booties Y’all” and “With You, Friends (Long Drive)”, it’s undeniable to say that no other music represented 2013 like theirs did.
When she died in 1879, at age 64, Catherine Dickens had been separated from her husband Charles for more than twenty years. During their twenty one years together she had given him ten children, dealt with his infidelities, his abuse and his eventual abandonment (he denounced her poor skills in all of England’s newspapers), but it remained clear until the very end that she was mad about him. Before passing away she asked one of her daughters to take the collection of love letters her father had written her to the British Museum, so that they would have proof that he once had loved her too.
// Notes from the Road
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